2018 brings calls for Democrats to focus on winning Congressional elections

U.S. Senate under Republican control

2018 has begun, and it is an election year. While so-called “off-year” (Congressional, state and local, but not presidential) elections often garner disappointingly low voter turnout on the Democratic side, calls have already emerged for Democrats to focus, and work hard, on winning back one or the other houses of Congress, or both. For example, yesterday, progressive website Crooks and Liars published a piece entitled: Take Back The House In 2018, But Don’t Forget The Senate! At the same time, former Nixon White House counsel John Dean tweeted:

Both of these suggestions, focusing primarily on the House or the Senate, have merit.

As John Dean is obviously aware, the U.S. House of Representatives is looking particularly attractive to Democrats this year because, first, every two years, all House seats are up for election. Second, in 2017 and continuing to the present, a possible Democratic “Blue Wave” has been building, largely in reaction to the heartless policies and horrendous behavior of Donald Trump and Republican lawmakers. A number of other factors (such as the president’s party typically faring badly in the elections in his second year in office) also favor the Democrats in their 2018 House races.

Moreover, the House is where charges (i.e., articles) of impeachment against the president are brought. That is extremely unlikely to happen to Donald Trump while Republicans are in charge. While some Congressional Republicans occasionally criticize Trump, they still almost universally vote with him, seemingly using Trump to sign off on their agenda which includes tax cuts for the wealthy, cutting regulations for big corporations, ignoring America’s gun violence epidemic, and religious extremism on policy matters such as abortion and discrimination against gays. Likewise, whichever party controls the House controls House committee hearings. If Democrats take over, they could hold hearings on issues such as Russia‘s attempts to interfere in our elections (and the Trump team’s involvement therewith), as well as Trump’s numerous golf vacations and family trips to Trump-owned properties where the Trumps earn profits and American taxpayers foot the bill. The House is also where spending bills originate, and where Democrats could thus derail Republican priorities and push their own. Therefore, focusing Democratic resources and efforts on recapturing the House (requiring a pickup of approximately 24 seats) makes a lot of sense.

At the same time, the U.S. Senate has crucial powers that would be important for Democrats. Among them are the power to hold confirmation hearings and votes on Donald Trump’s federal judicial nominees (including for the U.S. Supreme Court) and Trump’s picks for federal officials such as agency heads. Likewise, as with the House, a Democratic Senate majority could hold the Trump administration accountable via hearings, and could put the brakes on the Trump/Republican legislative agenda. Furthermore, the Democrats’ victory in the recent U.S. Senate special election in Alabama demonstrated that the Democrats’ message of fairness and inclusiveness, in contrast to the extreme views of various Republican candidates, can lead to Democratic success.

The path to a Democratic majority in the Senate in 2018 is tricky, however, as only one-third of Senate seats are up for election every two years, and of those seats being contested this year, approximately two-thirds are currently held by Democrats. That means the Democrats need to fight to defend the seats they have, and picking up even just a few more seats to take control of the Senate would be difficult. Finally, resources such as time and money are always finite, thus a party needs to establish priorities in each election. Nevertheless, the fact that some folks are contemplating whether and how Democrats can take over one or even both houses of Congress in the 2018 elections is encouraging for the Democratic Party, and should be worrisome for Republicans.

Photo by H. Michael Karshis, used under Creative Commons license. https://is.gd/BZjPNg

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